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Accessing Environment Variables in ASP.NET 5 Apps

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21 Apr 2017CPOL5 min read
This is a quick walk-through of how to access environmental variables when writing applications using the ASP.NET 5 DNX execution environment.

IMPORTANT: This post is outdated. A new version is available here, targeting the same issue for the released version 1.x of .NET Core and ASP.NET Core.

Introduction

When writing web or console applications, you often need to access variables like the directory your app runs in, the version of the hosting environment or environment variables like the TEMP folder location or PATH and USERPROFILE variables.
We also might want to store security related information, like database passwords or security tokens in a way that it doesn’t end up in a configuration file which gets checked into source control.

In .Net 4.x we used static variables like AppDomain or ConfigurationManager.AppSettings which could cause all kinds of issues depending on the type and environment your app is running on. With .Net portable libraries this was also not very friendly.

Writing new apps targeting Core CLR, those constructs are not available anymore but more importantly, we don’t need them anymore.
With DNX the ASP.NET team wrote a great host environment for all kinds of apps, but it also comes with a lot of new concepts.
For example, there are different ways to access the variables of the environment our app is running in:

  • Injecting strongly typed, host related data via dependency injection
  • Using string key, string value pairs via configuration

Dependency Injection

The ASP.NET team introduced a lightweight DI framework which is also used by DNX to inject things into your apps.

Note:
The build in DI framework supports constructor injection only. It can be replaced by a more heavyweight packages like Autofaq or Ninject. For this article we will use the build in DI.

One nice feature of DNX is the fact that it can inject useful data to our app’s entry point.
In case of ASP.NET web apps we can inject to the Startup.cs’s constructor, for consoles, we use the constructor of our Program.cs.

Now, the question is, what do we have to inject and how does that work?

The Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions NuGet package provides all the interfaces which are available to us. If you add one of those interfaces to the constructor, the host (DNX) will inject the instantiated concrete implementation at runtime.
The concrete implementation may vary based on which environment our app is running on, e.g. Windows or Linux.

And that is the beauty of dependency injection and the new framework. At development time we don’t have to know, and more importantly, we don’t have to care about the differences.
The framework abstracts this away for us and it will just work. And because those interfaces provide us a strongly typed contract, we can expect that those properties are set.

There are several interfaces which provide you with different environmental information coming from the Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions NuGet package:

  • IApplicationEnvironment
    Provides access to common application information
  • IRuntimeEnvironment
    Provides access to the runtime environment
  • IRuntimeOptions
    Represents the options passed into the runtime on boot

Hint:
There are more interfaces like ICompilerOptions or IAssemblyLoader which can be very useful but will not be discussed here. Play around with them yourself!

Example

To write an ASP.NET 5 console app, use Visual Studio 2015 (RC or newer) and the new ASP.NET 5 project template for a console application. This should create a project.json targeting the new DNX 4.5.1 and DNX Core 5.0 and a simple Program.cs

C#
<code>public class Program
{
    public void Main(string[] args)
    {
    }
}
</code>

To use the Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions NuGet package in our console app, we have to add it as dependency to the project.json file:

ASP.NET
<code>  "dependencies": {
    "Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions": "1.0.0-beta6-*"
  },
</code>

Note:
The version may vary, at the time of writing this article, it was beta6.
Until all this gets released, there might be breaking changes across versions. Make sure that all Framework and System packages are of the same milestone, e.g. don’t mix beta 4 and beta 5 packages.
Also, make sure you run your app with a version of DNX which matches with the version of the packages you have installed.

Now, we add those interfaces as parameters to the constructor of our app. In the following example we use the console output to print some of the information those interfaces provide:

C#
<code>public Program(IApplicationEnvironment app,
               IRuntimeEnvironment runtime,
               IRuntimeOptions options)
{
    Console.WriteLine("ApplicationName: {0} {1}", app.ApplicationName, app.Version);
    Console.WriteLine("ApplicationBasePath: {0}", app.ApplicationBasePath);
    Console.WriteLine("Framework: {0}", app.RuntimeFramework.FullName);
    Console.WriteLine("Runtime: {0} {1} {2}", runtime.RuntimeType, runtime.RuntimeArchitecture, runtime.RuntimeVersion);
    Console.WriteLine("System: {0} {1}", runtime.OperatingSystem, runtime.OperatingSystemVersion);
}

public void Main(string[] args) { ... }
</code>

Configuration

ASP.NET 5 also comes with a new configuration framework. We will not go into too much detail of how this replaces app/web.config. But in general it is collection of string based key value pairs.
The main NuGet package Microsoft.Framework.Configuration comes with a ConfigurationBuilder class which can be used to combine different configuration sources into one collection of key value pairs.

The subsequent packages, like Microsoft.Framework.Configuration.EnvironmentVariables and Microsoft.Framework.Configuration.Json, add extension methods to the ConfigurationBuilder to access specific configuration sources.

Example

For our example, we want to retrieve all environment variables, like PATH or USERPROFILE, and print the key and value to the console output.

In addition to the Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions above, we add a dependency reference to Microsoft.Framework.Configuration.EnvironmentVariables to the project.json file.
This package already has a dependency to Microsoft.Framework.Configuration and, which means we don’t have to reference it explicitly.

ASP.NET
<code>  "dependencies": {
    "Microsoft.Framework.Runtime.Abstractions": "1.0.0-beta6-*",
    "Microsoft.Framework.Configuration.EnvironmentVariables": "1.0.0-beta6-*",
    ...
  },
</code>

In the constructor of our app, we can now instantiate a new ConfigurationBuilder and call the extension methods.

C#
<code>var configuration = new ConfigurationBuilder()
    .AddEnvironmentVariables()
    .Build();
</code>

To print all variables to the console we can simply iterate over all available key value pairs.

C#
<code>foreach(var config in configuration.GetConfigurationSections())
{
    Console.WriteLine("{0}={1}", config.Key, configuration.Get(config.Key));
}
</code>

There is another thing called user secrets. User secrets are retrieve from the profile of the user account the app’s context is instantiate for, e.g. %APPDATA%\microsoft\UserSecrets\<applicationId>\secrets.json on windows.
Read more about how to configure user secrets on the ASP.NET wiki page.
The concept is the same as above mentioned environment variables, you can add the configured user secrets to the key value collection by calling the AddUserSecrets extension on the ConfigurationBuilder.

Usage of Configuration

Both concepts, environment variables and user secrets configuration, can be used to keep security related information away from your source code.
We never ever want to check in database passwords or Windows Azure tokens and keys to github or any other source control.
This way we can define security related settings per environment and read them at runtime, and never add those to a configuration file which gets checked into source control!

More Resources and Examples

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Micha C
Architect
Germany Germany
I'm working as developer the past 20 years, still eager to learn new stuff and happy if I find time to actually do coding :>

I'm focusing on the .net world of things, C# and the web...

Creator of CacheManager.NET (http://cachemanager.michaco.net) and DnsClient.NET (http://dnsclient.michaco.net)

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GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
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MemberMonster8414-Jun-15 3:32 

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